Food is a basic need for all of us, and when we have access to nutritious, culturally appropriate food, it empowers us to reach our full potential. Unfortunately, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 3 billion people across the globe can’t afford a healthy diet, greatly reducing health and wellness, growth for infants and children, and productivity.
Community-led food banks can support healthy diets for individuals and families by providing a host of nutrient-dense choices. And at The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), one of our priorities is finding specific ways we can support food banks in achieving their own nutrition goals and providing high-quality food to people who need it most.
Everyone deserves the dignity of access and informed choice when it comes to food, so each food bank’s approach to nutrition looks a little different, depending on the needs of their communities. But in general, GFN helps member food banks expand their nutrition work in three main areas:
Improving community access to nutrient-dense foods
We help food banks diversify their nutritional offerings to better meet community needs and increase the percentage of fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, and protein options available for people. In fact, around all food distributed by GFN members globally falls into one of these categories, with fruits and vegetables constituting 30 percent of what an average food bank provides—and we are working to increase these numbers even further.
One way this increase can be achieved is through agricultural recovery programs. In these programs, food banks partner with local farmers to collect fresh, healthy produce that would otherwise be lost or wasted—which also helps farmers, who often find themselves with surplus for a variety of reasons and would otherwise bear the time and monetary costs of removal. GFN provides technical assistance to food banks that want to establish or grow their partnerships with farmers, and we offer learning opportunities and connections to other food banks that have already created successful agricultural recovery programs. Additionally, through our extensive network of partners, we connect food banks to companies all along the agricultural supply chain who might want to contribute to food recovery efforts.
We also support food banks’ nutrition education programs and initiatives that focus on maternal and child health. Through these programs, people who visit food banks have access to information that can help inform the dietary choices they make for their families.
Bancos de Alimentos de México recovers tons of surplus produce from farmers and distributes it to people experiencing hunger across the country. (Photo: Bancos de Alimentos de México)
Increasing food banks’ capacity to safely collect and distribute nutrient-dense products
Through grants and other means, GFN ensures food banks have a deep understanding of the opportunities around nutrient-dense food recovery. For example, we can help food banks hire product sourcing professionals who specialize in the procurement of nutrient-dense foods to build capacity in the area.
Food safety goes hand-in-hand with the delivery of nutrient-dense foods, and GFN helps member food banks ensure their food safety practices are up-to-date and adhere to the highest standards through training and certification opportunities. We also invest in infrastructure and partnerships so food banks have the necessary equipment—like cold chain technology—to transport and store fresh foods safely and efficiently. And again, we connect food banks to interested businesses or organizations that might help, in this case, with capacity for things like transportation and storage.
A staff member from Foodbank Việt Nam organizes recovered produce in walk in refrigerators. The food bank's warehouse in Ho Chi Minh City boasts over 5000 square feet with cold storage, shelving, and other special equipment to safely store food. (Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Hoang Viet Nguyen)
Ensuring food banks have the resources they need to focus on nutrition
To properly analyze and evaluate nutritional impact, food banks need the appropriate tools and information. We are making sure food banks have access to case studies and other information so they can make informed choices that are best for their communities. That includes developing tools, databases, and research of our own to better equip food banks. For example, we’ve commissioned research that examines regional supply chains and country-specific contexts in detail to help guide food bank decision-making around food recovery opportunities.
Healthier diets packed with a wide array of nutrient-dense foods allow us to be our best selves, build resilience, and lay the foundation for the health of the next generation. Food banks can help build that foundation—and GFN is ensuring they have the appropriate resources and expertise to do so.
Nutritionists from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras perform a health assessment on Lourdes Palacio. Banco de Alimentos de Honduras works with the university and other community organizations to support nutrition programs for children and families. (Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Delmer Membreño)